University of Tennessee takes on civil rights-era cold-case murder investigation

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- The UT College of Law will be hosting a civil rights cold case event from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, February 24.

Local experts and a UT forensic anthropologist were asked to explore the death of Elbert Williams, the first NAACP official in the nation who was murdered for his civil rights work. Williams was killed June 20, 1940, in the rural agricultural town of Brownsville, Tennessee.

The free presentation is open to the public and will be held in Room 132 in the College of Law at 1505 W. Cumberland Ave.

According to the investigation team, Williams' murder was the culmination of a white terror campaign designed to destroy the Brownsville NAACP branch and deter African Americans from registering to vote.

The team of experts will be led by Jim Emison, a renowned courtroom lawyer of 43 years. Emison has been investigating Williams' murder since his retirement in 2011. He is leading a team of experts to locate Williams' unmarked grave and hopes to persuade the U.S. Department of Justice to reopen its investigation into Williams' death.

Other presenters at the event will be:

-Cynthia Deitle, a special agent with the Knoxville office of the FBI, who has investigated a number of sensitive hate crime cases including the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo by New York City Police officers and the sexual assault of Abner Louima. She has devoted considerable resources to addressing the FBI's Cold Case Initiative, which seeks to reexamine unsolved racially motivated homicides from the civil rights era.

-Amy Mundorff, a biological anthropologist at UT who specializes in forensic anthropology and disaster victim identification management, will discuss what her department could do if the state reopens the investigation into Williams' murder.

-John W. Gill, special counsel for the Knox County District Attorney's Office, is the former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee and a former special agent with the FBI.

Attorneys who attend may receive two hours of dual continuing legal education credit. A $10 fee is required to receive the credit.

More information can be found here.